To be heard; to be believed: Musings of a Black woman

This post sounds like a lot of rationalizing to avoid facing your own markedly egocentric behavior. It’s always about you, and if it isn’t, you make sure to see that it becomes so.” – A commenter on this blog
Writing about race and racialized experiences in mixed racial company at times has become increasingly difficult for me.  The reality is that we bring our own personal lens to the table and unfortunately that lens doesn’t always allow us to truly understand someone else’s reality that differs markedly from our own.

This is a personal blog and while I do write often about race, racism and current events, what I write here is filtered through my lens as a Black woman. Unlike work that I have done for publication, in this space I often talk about my personal experiences and while that may be taken as a sign of egomania, the hard reality is that as a Black woman in America, rarely are my words heard. Rarely are the words of any Black woman heard and believed. That uncomfortable truth went national this week with the trial and conviction for former police officer Daniel Holtzclaw.

Daniel Holtzclaw was a police officer in Oklahoma City who intentionally sought out low-income African-American women with criminal records to sexually assault. Women with less-than-perfect backgrounds whose tales would be questioned and frankly, on the whole, not be believed. Holtzclaw is of mixed ancestry (Japanese and White) though from various accounts it appears that he identified as white. Proximity to whiteness makes that possible but that’s a story for another post.

Holtzclaw was accused of sexually assaulting 12 women and 1 teenage girl. Until this week, the case received little in the way of media coverage outside of Black bloggers and writers who for the past year refused to let the story die. Law enforcement officers accused of such misdeeds isn’t all that uncommon an occurrence but the mainstream media’s lack of interest in such an extraordinary case speaks  volumes to who we choose to see as victims and who we choose to ignore. Often when one white woman goes missing or is harmed, especially if she is a “good” victim, we are bombarded with the story. Yet 13 Black women/girls were harmed by one rogue police officer in a major-ish city and it’s barely considered newsworthy?

That Holtzclaw was convicted on 18 of the 36 charges against him by an all-white jury is extraordinary given that we know racial bias is often at work on such juries. I suspect that Holtzclaw’s legal team was banking on that reality as well. “After all,” many people would say, “why would a guy like Holtzclaw want to assault women like that?” That few Black women, including yours truly, expected any conviction speaks to the lived reality of just how rarely our words as Black women are heard and believed. When the news of the conviction broke, I cried as did others in my circle but even in rejoicing over the conviction, one can’t help but notice that clearly not all the women were believed.

Several of Holtzclaw’s victims have been quoted as saying that the reason they did not initially contact the police was because they didn’t think that anyone would believe them. In a report by the African American Policy Forum, their research found that Black women were disproportionately sexually assaulted because they were often assumed to be promiscuous and less likely report to the crime. This hearkens back to the days of slavery when white masters sexually assaulted Black female slaves assuming them to be promiscuous anyway. One of the many racial stereotypes against Black women that still endures is that of the Jezebel. Racialized violence against Black women lays at the foundation of the United States.  Violence against all women is a problem but there is a very specific type of violence that is specific to the experience of Black women and it is a double attack against both our womanhood and our Blackness. It is often that place where support even from other women (non-Black primarily) is lacking because of the societal hierarchy that often relegates Black women to being less than other women.

As I watch my own daughter start her slow departure from childhood and move a step closer to womanhood I find myself thinking a lot about what it means to be a Black woman in this society. I think about how often I have had to fight to be heard and to be validated as a human, and just how tiring it is.  I think about how even in this space, I am not heard and in the grand scheme of things, it sounds rather minor until I realize the weight of it all. The enormity of constantly struggling for a voice in a world that wishes you would cease  to exist, a world where solidarity is not for you. It’s too much for a body yet for the bodies that look like mine, it is our life.

Yet tonight, I take solace that for once, the words of a Black woman were heard and that a man will pay for his racialized violence against Black women.  In this moment, that is enough. To know that we were heard.
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Raising her, saving her: a Black mama’s pain and reality

Lately, I look at my daughter and it’s increasingly clear that the childhood years are coming to a fast close. As the dolls and stuffies that used to be in daily play rotation lay untouched and our evening talks center more on the intricacies of managing friendships with the occasional questions about more mature fare, I look into her beautiful face and see signs of the young woman she is becoming—a sensitive, headstrong, occasionally verbose being who still believes in fairness and goodness in a world that is often anything but fair or good, especially for those of us with darker skin tones. I also find myself scared shitless thinking about the current state of the world she will be coming of age in.

When my son was little, I knew that the world would judge him harshly. He was a Black boy; that’s just the way it is and was. By the time he was entering his tween years, I saw the looks that no longer regarded him as a cute kid but saw him instead as a potential threat. It hurt my heart but he had our village to help steel him against the realities of Blackness and maleness.

Yet I was naive when my daughter was born. I didn’t think that she would face the same racialized tensions that her brother would face. Oh, I knew there would be challenges as a Black girl but the events of the past year have really driven home for me how unprepared I am for the realities of raising a Black girl in this current climate.

I am raising this almost at times ethereal soul in a world that finds justification in the degradation of Black women and girls. A world in which a white police officer can sexually assault 13 Black women and girls and the mainstream media can barely be bothered to report on his trial. The same officer whose guilt or innocence will be determined by a jury that has nary a Black person on it. A world in which a foster child is attacked viciously in school by the school resource officer for the “crime” of typical teenage behavior, with far too many adults believe that she should have done as she was told and, in some sense, deserved that wanton violence.

This year we have seen the cry of Black Lives Matter yet far too often that cry excludes Black women and girls and as a Black mother raising a Black girl, I cannot sit comfortably in that reality even when I know that my son and his peers are under attack for their Blackness and their maleness. What about my daughter? Hell, what about me?

I knew that I would have to raise my daughter to deal with the very real microaggressions that occur when existing in white spaces. The “friends” with the backhanded comments about appearance, hair, family…I lived that life as a girl, I still live it to some degree as a woman. But the acceptance of Black womanhood and girlhood as permanent second-class status that is worthy of state-sanctioned violence? No, I can’t accept this; I refuse to accept it. Yet what can I do? I have no pearls of wisdom other than my own lived experience. The last female member of my immediate family died six weeks after my daughter’s birth. I have no mother, sister, aunts or cousins to surround my girl and give her the strength she will need to rise above it.

Black women and girls have always existed in spaces that elevated white womanhood, but what we are facing now is more than just the elevation of whiteness and femaleness. It is a systematic attack on Black women and girls. It is an attempt at complete erasure of our lives and our experiences.  In a world where one missing white woman or girl is broadcast on a 24/7 loop, it is agonizing to know that only the degradation of Black women and girls is worthy of media coverage. Rarely is the humanity of Black women and girls deemed worthy of acknowledgement. It is enough to make a mama weep. How do I raise her? How do I save her in this cruel and ugly world that sees no beauty or worth in girls like us? 
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